Series Review: How to become a cult leader

Image description

Categories: Shuzia Magazine,

SERIES REVIEW - Esther Ebunife

The dictionary defines a cult as a system of religious veneration and devotion directed towards a particular figure or object. The Netflix Series "How To Become A Cult Leader" proves this definition. There is devotion, worship, and adoration towards a person. The series, which is a documentary, explores the life of six cult leaders, their rise and failures. It looks at the lives of Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Jaimie Gomez, Marshall Applewhite, Shoko Asahara, and Sun Myung Moon.

The premise of the series is that many people want to make sense of their existence; they want answers to questions; they want to believe in something greater and better; they want the promise of a better life/way. They want freedom. So, when anyone comes along with a glint of something better, they scamper over to him, hoping for some relief.

Some tactics that cult leaders use in the series include:


Something common amongst the various cult leaders is that they are self-centered. Everything they do is beneficial only to themselves, but they also make it appear like it's in the interest of the people. They use various ways to manipulate their followers into believing they have their best interest at heart.


It seems like without secrets, these movements cannot be cults. There is always a hush around them. By nature, humans have brains and so can think or reason to make sense of the happenings around them. To prevent this, these cult leaders make sure to cut off anything that would bring up deep thoughts and criticism of their actions and demands. Hence the no-question rule. Followers are cultured to follow blindly without questioning. This is in direct contrast to the Bible. Jesus surely told his disciples that they should declare what he told them in secret from the rooftops (Matthew 10:27). No secrets. The Bible also said that God's word is like silver tried seven times (Psalm 12:6). So, it can be questioned. In the New Testament, believers are also instructed that they should be ready to provide an answer for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). Again, no secrets.

Being/Playing God

Cult leaders all want to be God. They want to be worshipped, followed, and adored. They want the praise of people. They want to be able to control others. Therefore, they resort to any method to do this. Marshall Applewhite went as far as convincing his followers that he was not human. Jim Jones once laid claim that he was Father Divine incarnate. They want the people to see them as something greater that should be feared and revered.


This is very common because these leaders tell lies and tweak their teachings in a way that makes people keep believing and following them. Jaimie, for instance, makes his followers believe they see light when they meditate enough. To achieve this, he flicked some light near their closed eyes. Jim Jones built a garden and lured his members there believing it was some kind of paradise.


To stand out and be distinct, cult leaders set up a method for their followers to follow. This method becomes their identity. Charles Manson's followers had an X mark on their forehead, and Marshall Applewhite’s followers had a language they spoke that was peculiar to them alone and could only be understood by the members. Some cult leaders make their members go bald, while others forbid eating and pleasures, etc.


As everyone wants to believe in better times in the future, these cult leaders show themselves to know the way to these better times/places. They come with the promise of salvation, as a way of escape from the troubles of life. They show confidence that makes their followers believe they are actually leading them on the right path.

Easy Entry, No Exit

Exiting a cult is almost always impossible whereas becoming a member seems easy and quick. Cult leaders work a lot to get their followers growing, so they do not want to lose them. Some even resort to threats and violence in an attempt to keep their members. Jim Jones, for instance, resorted to an exchange of gunfire in a bid not to let his members escape, leading to his own death as well as the deaths of many others.

This Netflix series shows the life of these cult leaders, their followers, and the fate that befell them. Though it isn’t said outrightly in the series that becoming a cult leader is not right, it is made clear that it takes a lot of work to get and grow followers and keep them. It's also evident from the lives of those featured in the series that becoming a cult leader often leads to a great downfall.

by shuzia .com Published



Please log in first